How To Install a Light Fixture

45 minutes - 1 hour
This Little Light of Mine!

Image removed.


n 1: an object firmly fixed in place n 2: the quality of being fixed in place [syn: fastness, fixedness, fixity, secureness] n 3: the act of putting something in working order again [syn: repair, fix, fixing, mend, mending, reparation]

Okay, so that big family dinner you've been dreading is finally coming up and you've been designated as host. You're not dreading this dinner because your Aunt Trudy makes snide comments about your marital status, or your Uncle Fred's favorite table game is, "Guess That Smell!"

No, it's because your dining room looks like a tribute to Sonny & Cher's wardrobe!

Not to worry, there are a number of things you can do in a single afternoon to spruce it up. You could paint the walls, add some new furniture, or even put up some new drapes or blinds. But, if you really want to make an impact, there's one project that will instantly add the "umph" factor you're looking for: put in a new light fixture!

We know what you're saying: "I'm a Jane, but I've never done anything electrical! You guys must be nuts!"

How could you, just a plain Jane, change out a light fixture? Well if it makes you feel any better, on a difficulty scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the hardest) this project ranks about a 2. Yes, I said a 2. We swear it's not even a quarter as hard as it sounds. Just follow along below and you could have a brand new, beautiful light fixture up in an hour or less!

JANE TIP: Make sure you've turned off the proper breaker and that it's attached to the light that you plan on changing out. Use your circuit tester to confirm that power is no longer running to the line. If you cannot shut off the power or guarantee that you have, do not attempt to do this project! This project is truly very easy, but when it comes to electricity, we're always going to err on the safe side. So, once again, make sure the power is off to the area you're working on.

Typically you'll find that most electrical connections have a black, a white and a green or exposed copper wire.

  • The black = the hot wire
  • The white wire = the neutral wire
  • The exposed copper or green wire = the ground wire

The black wire is the one you need to be most concerned with. In homes with older wiring, you might find the wires are different colors, all black or even all white. Just one more reason to test them before starting to make sure once and for all there's no power running to the line. Know that the one that causes your circuit tester to light up, beep, chirp, squawk (you get the gist) is the hot wire. Once you've verified which circuit breaker controls the power for this light, be sure to label it on your panel so that you'll never have to do this again!

Are you ready? Let there be light!

Step 1

Turn off the power

First off, if you haven't done so by now make sure that you've turned off the power from the breaker. Once you've done this, check to make sure it is truly off by flipping the wall switch on and off to the light you want to change. If the bulb was a working bulb to begin with and nothing happens, you've got the right one. Good job! If not, put in a fresh bulb and try it again.

Step 2

Loosen the light fixture

Get up on your ladder and loosen the screws on the light fixture. This will expose the wire nuts. Wire nuts are the plastic colored caps holding the wires together. Remove them by turning counterclockwise, as they are essentially screwed onto the wires. Assuming you have the properly colored wires, first separate the hot wire, then the neutral wire and save the ground wire for last. If they're all the same color or don't follow our color chart, we like the "Eeeny-Meeny-Miny-Moe" method for which to unscrew first.

Once you've finished this step you'll finally get rid of that nasty old light fixture! Be careful here, especially if your light fixture is heavy. Once you remove the wires, you're all that remains between the light fixture and the ground. So, use your ladder as leverage to help you maneuver the old light fixture down. Once it's loose, throw it away, donate it, re-gift it, eBay it - Na, Na, Na, Na, Hey-Hey, Good-bye!

Step 3

light fixture step 3Replace the Mounting Bracket

Next you'll need to work with what's called a mounting bracket. There might be one attached to the electrical box from your old light that you could reuse. Quite often the old one will work well - but to be safe, we suggest that you unscrew the old one and put in the one that came with your new light. The reason why we suggest this is the strap will hold the light onto the box and on to your ceiling. It is usually rectangular in shape and can be secured with the screws that came with the new light or even the old ones that you just removed.

Step 4

light fixture 4

Connecting the Wires

Out with the old and in with the new! Get that gorgeous new fixture out of the box and take a look at the instructions that came with it. Most light fixtures have a particular order in which they are installed, so just follow the diagram included with your light to make sure that you install your new fixture correctly. First, begin by identifying the two white, or neutral wires (one in the ceiling and one in the new fixture). Again, use your ladder as leverage to help you hold the new light fixture in place. Begin by making sure you have enough of the copper exposed on the neutral wires to make a good connection. No more than 1/2" should be exposed. Twist the ends of the wires together in a clockwise direction. Next place a wire nut on the end of the attached wires and screw it on clockwise also.

Follow the same procedure outlined in Step 4 with the black (hot) wires.

Yep, you guessed it, third time's a charm! Now you're going to connect the ground wire from the ceiling to the fixture's ground wire. These typically are either bare copper-looking wires or green plastic coated wires. Make sure you secure them with a wire nut. Note that often the ground wire nut is bigger than the other two you just used, because the ground can be a thicker wire.

Step 5

The New Fixture

Can you believe you're almost finished?! Now that all the wires are connected, you're ready to hang the new light! Grab the long screws that will hold your new fixture into the ceiling. Every light is made a little differently, so we suggest you follow the manufacturer's instructions.

SAFETY TIP: Pardon us for a "duh" moment here, but light bulbs get very hot! When installing a light fixture it is recommended there be a minimum distance of at least 3-6 inches from the bulb to any object. Remember, if a 100-watt bulb is enough to cook a brownie in an EZ-Bake oven, it's certainly hot enough to start a fire!

NOTE: If you're looking to install a chandelier, don't worry, it's essentially the same thing. Just first make sure that the mounted box can handle the extra weight, as some chandeliers are ridiculously heavy. If it's approximately the same weight as the fixture you just removed, you won't have to worry. Don't be intimidated by this, take a deep breath and go for it! Heck you've already done the most difficult part!

Step 6

Installing the Fixture

You may need a helper for this if it's a heavy fixture: Hold the fixture into position over the screws. Turn it so that the screw heads fit into the key holes and twist the fixture into place.

Screw the bulbs into the fixture and place the globe on with the corresponding screws (they should be the only ones left in the package). Turn the power back on and see your handy work. Come back in, flip that switch and voila - let there be light!

You did it! Do you hear the applause? Well you will as the family sits around your table lit by your latest success!

Hey! And how about this? If you want to add even more ambiance, put in a dimmer switch! It's another easy project that we know once you've put one in; you'll want one in every room. Check out our article on DIMMER GLIMMER: How to install a dimmer switch.